Las Vegas Day Trip: Nevada’s Capital Carson City

A Historical Walking Tour, Museums and Culture Reflect Area’s Past

Carson City’s Victorian landmarks, Nevada’s premier history museum, a former Indian school, and rail museum offer intriguing glimpses into Western U. S. early days.

Northern Nevada’s Carson City, only 30 miles south of Reno, offers an alternative to the bright lights, glitter, and glitz for which the state is famous. Its museums are first-rate and architectural treasures are amongst the best preserved in the West, making the area’s history an unforgettable show-and-tell experience.

For more than 100 years, Carson City was the smallest state capital in the country. In 1950, the town had only 4,172 residents. Today, its population is about 20 times that number, and a 1969 consolidation with Ormsby County boosted Carson’s area to 146.9 square miles.

Historic Driving Tour

Fortunately, new construction hasn’t spelled destruction for the old. You can take a driving tour past 28 architectural reminders of the past, using a free map from the Chamber of Commerce on Carson Street. It’s also possible to cover most of the tour on foot because the city’s older buildings are just west of downtown.

Twenty-four of the landmarks are houses. Built of native Nevada materials — timber and sandstone — their styles range from carpenter Gothic to early Victorian, liberally laced with cupolas, turrets, and bay windows. The imposing Brougher House features a two-story porch and windows of curved glass.

A striking feature of the former home of Henry Yerington, an officer of the Virginia & Truckee and Carson-Colorado railroads, is its solarium with arched windows in the style of a railroad parlor car of the early days. The tour includes First Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Nevada. People interested in ecclesiastical interiors will also want to step inside three others:

  • English-style St. Peter’s Episcopal (1867)
  • First United Methodist (1866)
  • St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, built in 1870 (be sure to notice the latter’s illuminated ceiling).

Other historic buildings are the State Capitol; the old Virginia & Truckee Railroad depot, now occupied by the Masonic Lodge, and the Tahoe Brewery. The Brewery was acquired by the Carson City Arts Alliance and converted into a community art center in the early 1990s.

Nevada State Museum

The undisputed prize among Carson City’s historical treasures is the Nevada State Museum, considered one of the ten best regional museums in the United States. Located on Carson Street downtown, it is housed in the former U. S. Mint building where the valuable Carson City silver dollars were coined. Museum favorites include lifelike wax figures in room-size glass cases depicting early Indian life and dioramas of stuffed birds, animals, and rodents in their natural settings.

Other outstanding displays are the intricately patterned work of the renowned Washo basket maker, Dot-So-La-Lee, and an extensive collection of antique buttons. Among the more unusual exhibits are “Nature’s Extremes in Bird Eggs,” “Ten Steps to Making a Tule Boat” and “The Deer — an Aboriginal Supermarket on the Hoof.” The highpoint of the museum for youngsters is the basement, which has been transformed into an underground mine.

Fire Engines, Railroad Trains and Special Events

The Carson City Fire Museum on Curry Street contains antique fire-fighting equipment and original Currier and Ives fire-fighting prints. Farther south, the ever-expanding Nevada State Railway Museum owns a large selection of rolling stock from various railroads.

In the southeast section of town is the former Stewart Indian School, whose 50 stone buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Established in 1890 on 240 acres of land, the school was attended by boys and girls from many of the western tribes, and its history is chronicled in a small museum on the campus. The best time to visit is during the annual PowWow, which features arts and crafts fair, games, a barbecue, and a dance competition. Another annual event that highlights the area’s history — the Kit Carson Rendezvous &Wagon Train – also will be held the same weekend.


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